Featured Post

Featured Post - Mystery Movie Marathon

I thought I'd kick the new year off with another movie marathon. I thought it was time to check out a few old school mystery flicks. Som...

Monday, July 31, 2023

The Immortal (1969)

Jordan Braddock is a very sick and very wealthy man. We know this because when we first meet him he is flying on his private jet which crashes complicating his medical issues. While in the hospital on his death bed he is given a transfusion of blood from a man named Ben. He works for Braddock’s company in some sort of car racing or testing capacity. The blood works miracles… literally. Eventually the doctors figure out that Ben’s blood has amazing properties that heal and even make people younger. The catch is that it is only temporary.

Being a good guy Ben takes the opportunity to try and help everyone by allowing them to run tests and experiment. But Braddock is worried that if he dies in his dangerous job this fountain of youth will be lost to him. So doing what rich guys do he kidnaps him and locks him up. Though a mysterious benefactor, Braddock’s young wife who wants to inherit his money, helps him break out. This leads to Ben realizing that he has to go on the run looking for his long-lost brother who may also have the same blood and could be in danger. The end… not really as this made for television movie was a pilot for a series that lasted a year.

This is a solid bit of science fiction. We have a likeable main character in Ben whose first instinct is to use his gift to help the sick and is generally a good guy. Against him, at least in the movie, is Braddock as the greedy old man who wants to keep the benefits for himself and selfishly extend his own life. Is the rich old white guy as the villain overdone, maybe but it works here so who cares. What I find amusing is that when it went to series they couldn’t get the actor from the movie they just had another rich old white guy chasing him and say Braddock died. Completely interchangeable but again I’m okay with that. Or at least I think I am as I’ve never actually found the show. It seems to be hard to find.

The cast is filled with familiar faces including Christopher George, who most of us know from either Grizzly or Pieces but was in a bunch of great genre flicks and died way too young. Here he is cast as Ben and makes a wonderful protagonist. He is an underrated actor that certainly had the charisma to carry a show or movie by himself. Though he doesn’t have to as he is surrounded by the likes of Ralph Bellamy (Trading Places), Carol Lynley (The Night Stalker), and a very young Jessica Walter (Arrested Development). You may not recognize all the names but trust me you will know the faces.

If I had one bad thing to say about The Immortal is that it very much feels like a pilot for a series and doesn’t have an ending but rather is left open for the series that followed. Like I’ve already mentioned I haven’t seen the series and it may not be good, though I’ve heard positive things about it. But as a standalone movie even without a solid resolution to the story I still think that it is interesting enough to invest seventy minutes into checking it out. You can find it on the internet in a couple different spots so get to Googling it and give this one a chance.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Friday, July 28, 2023

The UFO Incident (1975)

More made for television fun with this based on “real events” NBC movie of the week. Back in the seventies everyone was all about Bigfoot, The Bermuda Triangle, and yes Aliens! The UFO Incident is based on the story told by a married couple, Barney and Betty Hill. Apparently in the early sixties while returning from vacation they were abducted by some little grey aliens and poked/prodded before having their memories wiped out. Only that last bit didn’t take as they started having nightmares and health issues. They finally went to see a doctor who helped them recover their memories under hypnosis. 

Years later after Barney had passed away in the late sixties Betty became a regular in the UFO community. Again, there was such a thing because as I’ve already mentioned the seventies were all about spooky unknown stuff like this. Personally, I think that all the conspiracy stuff got so popular since a big portion of the public no longer trusted the government… I blame the Vietnam War and Watergate. But I’m getting ahead of myself. 

What I’ve written above is honestly the whole story. There isn’t much else to talk about. The movie plays out in an interesting way though. All the various sessions both the interviews as well as them under hypnosis were recorded so the movie uses recreations of those to tell the story. This is accomplished with a combination of them sitting in a chair talking as well as some flashbacks. It makes for a rather slow and at times boring watch. The movie teases the audience by bringing you right to something happening only to cut away to them having an argument or the doctor hypothesizing about what might be going on. When we finally get to the abduction it is brief and while staged well for the time and budget hasn’t held up well. 

There is even a bit of social commentary due to the fact that they were an interracial couple, Barney was African American and Estelle was white. This took place in the sixties so that was a very controversial thing at the time and the stress of it on Barney was used as an excuse for him maybe hallucinating the abduction. It gets weird when they try to explain things. This as well as them being overly tired are given as plausible explanations in what I expect the filmmakers trying to be fair and give alternate possibilities other than just aliens. But the movie is already slow and muddled and honestly the audience doesn’t need more to slow things down and muddy the water. 

While the writing left me underwhelmed, I loved the performances from James Earl Jones as Barney and Estelle Parsons as Betty. Especially so since most of their most dramatic and emotional scenes are them sitting in a chair recalling horrible memories. They have to make it both engaging and believable on their own and don’t even have many chances to play off each other. The acting from the pair is the best part of the movie. When they are on the screen together they play the loving couple with chemistry that makes it feel like love each other and that translates into us being invested in them as characters. It really does suck that the writing doesn’t do much to support this excellent cast. 

I wonder if I had seen this when I was younger and still a believer in all this cryptid, mysterious disappearances, and alien stuff if The UFO Incident would have played differently for me. As a child of the seventies I grew up on these stories and the documentaries so maybe. That said this movie seems to lack the charm and fun of something like The Mysterious Monsters or The Bermuda Triangle so perhaps not. Regardless I can’t recommend this one though if it does interest you there is a copy floating around YouTube as of the writing of this review so you can check it out for free. 

© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

The Devil and Miss Sarah (1971)

The movie opens with a man tied to some stakes in the middle of an Indian village with a hood over his head. A posse rides in and takes him away. Seems the locals were holding him prisoner for this very reason. The marshal, Duncan, keeps him hooded until after they leave the village. He explains this to the other men as the Indians thinking that the man, Rankin, is the devil and not to look into his eyes. Though if he believes this then why take the hood off? They ride off into the desert but are ambushed by some different Indians. Rankin thinks he is free but Duncan isn’t dead and gets the drop on him. This leads them to riding off and finding a couple traveling. They are Gil and his wife Sarah.

When the marshal dies Gil decides to take Rankin to the local stagecoach weigh station. But before they even start the trip it becomes clear that the outlaw has some sort of influence over Sarah. We also find out that she has a gift and can see things before they happen. Here we get an idea that there is more to this than just a normal western story. Unfortunately, when they arrive the stagecoach is burned, and the survivors are hiding out in the buildings. Seems the Indians from earlier showed up and did this. The rest of the movie are the survivors fearing and bargaining with Rankin, who is clearly evil, until it comes down to he and Gil fighting for Sarah’s soul. At least I think so.

This is an interesting ABC movie of the week. It combines the Western genre with the Horror genre in a very subtle way. You never are quite sure if our villain, Rankin, really is some sort of demonic force or if he is just a man. What is clear though is his evil intentions as he seemingly doesn’t care if he lives or dies as long as he can create some chaos along the way. Then again, he does seem to have some sort of mental control over folks as he seems to control the Indians chasing them into attacking and then leaving on a whim. And of course, he almost gets Sarah to pick up a gun and murder her husband while he sleeps. So yeah, maybe there is something to it. Remember this was the seventies and demons twisting innocent folks into doing bad things was just getting into the swing as far as popular entertainment goes. 

Honestly, the fact that they keep this so vague is one of the reasons that I liked this movie so much. The last line of the movie is Gil saying something along the lines of “he was just an evil man” but even then, I wasn’t so sure. I mean we don’t get the big twist where the supposedly dead Rankin sits up and smiles evilly… though I could totally see that happen after the camera and our attention left his body. The movie was that creepy and I dug it. 

This is a small cast, but it is a good one. Janice Rule and James Drury play Sarah and Gil respectively. They were both working actors that did a ton of television work including a lot of westerns as were very good in the roles. Drury especially sells the fear and confusion of Rankin’s influence on his wife. We also get some supporting roles filled by Logan Ramsey (Joysticks, The Beast Within), Donald Moffat (The Thing), and Slim Pickens (Blazing Saddles). Now that is one hell of a cast! Though the highlight for me is Gene Barry as Rankin. The man was an absolute legend starring in many classic fifties’ television shows. Mostly as the good guy so this was certainly against type. 

Cool story filled with characters portrayed by excellent actors combine to make The Devil and Miss Sarah a neat way to kill seventy or so minutes. I’ve seen and covered a lot of these movies of the week for the site and have to say that this is one of the better ones. I’m sort of shocked that I hadn’t seen it before but am glad to have rectified that. It is on the internet to watch for free at the usual spots. I recommend that you give it a chance. 

© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Monday, July 24, 2023

She Waits (1972)

This CBS movie of the week opens with an older woman waking from a nightmare. She hears whispering and wanders off around a dark house calling for Elaine. Eventually another woman, who turns out to be the housekeeper finds her and puts her back to bed. Then we see a newly married couple, Mark and Laura, arrive at the house. The woman from before is Mark’s mother and Laura is nervous to meet her mother-in-law for the first time. There is also some immediate tension due to her telling Mark repeatedly that it isn’t safe for them there.

We find out that Elaine was Mark’s first wife who killed herself one night with a pistol after she and he had a huge fight. Though Mark’s mother later says that he shot her, and she wiped off the gun to protect him and so they could go along with the suicide story. But later we find out that both were mistaken, though I’ll not spoil it here. Though to be honest it isn’t much of a twist. What is clear is Elaine’s spirit isn’t at rest and eventually possesses Laura to get her revenge on Mark, who she also thinks killed her. It gets a bit confusing to be honest. In the end the events of that night are sorted out and the couple goes on happily with their lives. Oh and the ghost of Elaine is also free to move on. I suppose it is a happy ending… for most of them anyways.

This movie had all the makings of a fun made for television ghost story but managed to fail. The cast is decent with David McCallum, who most of us will now recognize from NCIS but at the time was best known for Mission Impossible, starring as Mark. Laura is played by the legendary Patty Duke (not Astin yet!). Both are convincing in the roles and do the best with the material provided for them to work with, which is sadly not all that much. There are also supporting roles from Lew Ayres (Donovan’s Brain, Battle for the Planet of the Apes), and Beulah Bondi (It’s a Wonderful Life). Yeah, George Bailey’s mom is in this! Clearly they had some talent in front of the screen.

Here is where She Waits falls flat for me. The movie is slow…painfully so. The movie is mostly set in one location, the family home. That means we get lots of wandering around in the dark with creepy whispers and billowing curtains. To a certain extent that is fine. But it goes on and on to the point that any atmosphere that it created becomes tedious boredom. I get allowing tension to build up but there are far too many scenes that go absolutely nowhere. Toss in a vital character that is hugely important to the ending who is introduced in the first twenty minutes then disappears until the last ten. This was annoying because as soon as I saw him return, I knew exactly what was coming. Basically, the script is a mess that has difficulty filling up the meager seventy four minute runtime and completely wastes a decent cast.

I normally like Patty Duke’s movies. She tends to liven up whatever she appears in and here does a good job with her line delivery and body language showing the difference between Laura and Laura possessed by Elaine. But even that can’t save what is a dreadfully boring made for TV misfire. Obviously, I’m not recommending you waste your time on this one.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Friday, July 21, 2023

You’ll Never See Me Again (1973)

A couple is on a picnic being all “lovey dovey” and eating candy bars. Hey man it is a made for television flick so don’t expect much more than that. But it does establish the fact that they are married and in love. Though later when they return home and the woman, her name is Vicki, gets a latter from her estranged mother there is a fight. She wants to go see her for the first time in years while he needs to go to his architect job stuff. This leads to him hitting her and her dropping the line “You’ll never see me again!” as she storms out.

When she doesn’t return the next day her husband, Ned, goes looking for her. But she is nowhere to be found and the police can’t help him beyond taking him to see a woman in the hospital that turns out not to be Vicki. Ned starts to retrace her steps and along the way finds a sketchy gas station mechanic, played by Bo Svenson, who turns out to be a red herring. Eventually he finds his way back to Vicki’s home and meets her mother, for the first time which may be important, only to be told she never made it there. Of course, the cops start to suspect him after someone plants Vicki’s bloody dress in his car and makes an anonymous phone call. But not to worry as it is all resolved before the credits roll.

For the most part I’ve enjoyed checking out these old made for television movies, but much like every other genre they can’t all be good. You’ll Never See Me Again isn’t good. The pacing is terrible. There are a lot of very “talky” scenes with characters droning on about things that in the end don’t move the story along and just serve to pad things out. Sure, the gas station attendant bit was a needed red herring, but did we need to see Ned also track down and yell at the man who gave Vicky a ride? All that does is let him know she did get to her mother’s house. I have other examples, like the subplot of him being framed and the cops trying to arrest him, but none of that serves to further the mystery. Though I guess it does up the ante and add consequences to our main character. But it is still tedious.

Speaking of the mystery it may be due to me watching a ton of mystery movies but the moment the characters made such a huge deal about him never having met her mother whom she was estranged from I knew exactly what the hell was going to happen. Along the way the feeble attempts at misdirection never made me thing for a second that my initial idea was wrong. The other attempt at surprising the audience involving Ned noticing that a room is off somehow isn’t a surprise. I mean they beat you over the head with it so you know that it has to be important later. Spoilers… it is.

One of the things that you have heard me talk about in many of my reviews is that I love the fact that these made for television movies couldn’t just lean into the violence and sleaze due to censors. That normally makes for a well written and fun watch. I can’t say that this movie falls into that category as it is about as generic and by the numbers as you can get. This totally wastes performances from David Hartman, Jane Wyatt, and the familiar face (at least to genre fans) of Ralph Meeker.

Hell, I haven’t even mentioned the fact that our heroic husband slaps the hell out of his wife and that is I guess something the audience is supposed to ignore and accept. Times have changed and for the better. I can’t recommend wasting your time on this one.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park (1978)

The seventies were a weird time to be alive. Trust me I was there. One of the strangest things that happened was Kiss. They started out as a great band with a weird hook of never being seen without their makeup on and when they had conquered the music world branched out to keep expanding their brand. Of course, this was long before celebrities had concepts of branding and whatnot. Trust me it was all quite innovative.

This all leads me to Kiss and their Marvel Comic book. It created a weird backstory for them where each of the bandmembers had some sort of talisman that gave them superpowers, including making rock and roll music. That is important because this made for television movie is basically a live action version of that comic book. Here the band is playing a series of shows at an amusement park. Also at the park is an engineer named Abner who complains about his budget getting cut to fund the shows which is impacting his life’s work. The guy is in charge of the robotics and exhibits. If you have ever been to Disney and seen the Hall of Presidents, you know what they were going for.

As much as Abner’s work has helped establish the park Kiss brings in a much larger crowd and therefore gets more money/attention. This eventually leads to him being fired and for his full on mad scientist mode to engage. The only solution is to replace the band with robots who will sing the classic songs with new lyrics. These new words will whip up the fans and cause them to destroy the park completing Abner’s revenge. The only way he can capture the band is to steal their talismans, which he does. Lucky for the world the boys manage to escape, defeat the doppelgangers, and sing the proper lyrics so everyone can “Rock’n’roll all Nite”.

You know I truly get the fact that a lot of fans hate Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley for how they have marketed and, in many ways, exploited their fanbase. Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park and the comic book that preceded it is the demarcation where many think things went wrong. I’m not going to argue that because I’m at best a casual fan of the band and don’t feel qualified to debate that. Also as far as this movie goes what happened afterwards doesn’t impact my enjoyment of it in any way. And I really do like this movie as it hits me in a couple different ways.

First up is my love for made for television movies. This was made for NBC and has that sort of charm that you can only get from a project made under the watchful eye of the censors. In other words, they had to be more creative and couldn’t just lean into violence and sleaze like many drive-in releases (that I also dearly love) were apt to do. Here the writers do their best to make this as cartoonish as possible with dialogue that feels like it belonged on the pages of the Marvel Comic book. And the fights are gloriously goofy with them doing battle at different times with robot monkey monsters, the classics of Dracula, Wolfman, the Mummy, and the Frankenstein’s monster, as well as robot Kiss. We get much Kiss Fu as well as laser beam eyes from Star Child and fire breathing from the Demon.

Trust me kids this was cool back in my day!
Second, I miss the seventies and this one checks a lot of boxes for me. First the soundtrack is filled with classic songs from the masked up era of Kiss. A few highlights are Rock’n’roll All Nite, Beth, and Shout it out Loud. I remember these songs blaring from my radio when I was a kid and it put a smile on my face hearing them again. If that isn’t enough seventies ‘member berries for you how about I tell you who made this movie. This was produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions, which explains the cartoonish look and story. And despite being made for television there are also some crazy fun legendary things that slipped by the censors, which was also the sort of debates that could only happen on playgrounds before the internet. Now all these kids have cell phones and can get stills right away to end arguments. I miss the old days. The seventies were a magical time of good music, weird movies, and ladies not wearing bras. Hey, I was just a kid but even I noticed that and yes despite this being a television movie that apparently was allowed to slide.

On a side note I remember how controversial certain toy lines and cartoons were in the eighties when adult properties like Rambo where repackaged for children. Lots of folks think that was a new thing but here we have an entire movie coming from a production company best known for cartoons like Scooby Doo making a hard drinking and hard loving band (read the different band members books… Holy Crap!) accessible for the younger fans.

Is Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park a good movie? Probably not. But it is an amazing snapshot of pop culture in the mid to late seventies. I do wonder if folks without my fond memories of that decade will be quite as enamored with it, but in the end I have to go with my gut. I think that this is a silly good time and worth a watch. It can be a bit of a challenge to find as for many years the band tried to bury it but if you look hard enough it is out there.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

A Taste of Evil (1971)

The movie kicks off with a little girl playing in her clubhouse while the adults are at a party. Someone comes in and there is a scream. Later it is confirmed that she was molested by a man, though she has blocked out the details and can’t identify him. That is some pretty heavy stuff for a television movie in the early seventies. Years later the little girl, Susan, has returned from Europe. She was in an asylum and while no longer catatonic still has no memory of what happened to her. Her doctor thinks it is best that she return home to hopefully jar her memory and complete her recovery.

This is where the movie picks up. In the years she was away Susan’s father has passed away and her mother has remarried a man named Harold. There is also the groundskeeper John and a few other household staff members. From the moment she arrives home it is clear that someone is shadowing Susan, scaring her at every opportunity. She also starts to see Harold, who left on a business trip, apparently dead. Though when she gets help the body is always gone. Is she losing her mind or is there something else going on? I won’t spoil this one by answering that question or by giving anymore details here.

I enjoyed the heck out of A Taste of Evil. The story had a cool gothic feel to it. The house is imposing, and you have the family/staff who may or may not want what is best for our main character. The woman in danger questioning her own sanity is also a trope of this sort of flick but is handled decently here. The creeping around the woods and the old house in the dark all adds to an atmosphere that helps to make this a bit spooky and very entertaining. There is a twist that I won’t spoil, but it also fits with the sort of story they are trying to tell here. It has a very Rebecca and/or The Uninvited feel that put a smile on my face. I love flicks like this. The shorter runtime of seventy three minutes also helps it to move along quickly and not linger on bits that could have killed the pacing. Here being a made for television flick helps it out quite a bit.

Have no fear Dr. McDowall is here!
I will acknowledge that the actress, Barbara Parkins, struggles a bit as Susan. There are times when she should be carrying the movie but is lost a bit in her scenes with the stronger supporting co-stars. Barbara Stanwyck (her mother), William Windom (Harold), and Roddy McDowall (the family doctor) all dominate their scenes with her. It might have been a big ask to get her to hold her own with such a great group of actors but that is what was needed, and it hurts the movie that she can’t. Though that didn’t spoil things for me, but it could have been better with a stronger actress in the lead role.

A Taste of Evil is a fun television movie that reminds me of being a kid and staying up to watch something I’d never heard of. I do remember this one making the rounds on the late show that used to start after the news on my local station. Luckily you don’t have to stay up to watch it as you can find the movie online to check out for free. Did I mention it has Roddy McDowall in it? He is awesome yet again. I recommend checking this one out.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Monday, July 17, 2023

Sweet, Sweet Rachel (1971)

The made for television movies continue. This time around we have a supernatural story involving psychic behavior and a killer that uses their power to commit murder! The movie starts off with a man dealing tarot cards and trying to divine something from them. His name is Paul and suddenly he sees his lovely wife calling for him outside some French doors. He runs to her and ends up diving right out of the second story window. That seems odd. When his wife, the titular Rachel, comes home she is shocked to find him dead! Later she starts to hear voices, hallucinate, and gets a weird phone call. To ensure that she isn’t losing her mind she goes to see a special doctor, one who studies psychic phenomena. His name is Dr. Darrow. 

Darrow hypnotizes her and gets more details that she doesn’t necessarily remember otherwise. He is also attacked and almost jumps thru some glass himself. Along with his blind friend, who also possesses second sight, he starts digging. This leads him to Rachel’s creepy aunt Lillian and her family. They seem awfully protective of her so much so that they cut Rachel off from the help that she was searching for. This raises some red flags with Darrow who like a dog with a bone won’t let it go. Eventually another person dies, Rachel thinks she is responsible, and Darrow sorts it all out before the end credits roll. 

Before I start I need to warn you all that there will be some spoilers coming. I’ll try to keep them at a minimum, but I need to mention them to explain why I sort of liked this one. Sweet, Sweet Rachel is an interesting movie. I will warn you that it is a very slow burn and leans heavily into the late sixties and early seventies obsession with psychic powers. To that end the movie takes itself very seriously, which I’m not sure has aged well over the last fifty plus years. Still, I did enjoy the mystery that they create with the murders. At it’s core this movie is a who done it with a supernatural twist. That said we do find out later that one of the murders was an old fashioned poisoning. You also get an obvious suspect in Aunt Lillian, and I was locked in on her being the issue. But in a nice twist she is a murder victim which tosses the entire story into doubt. I dug that. 

The cast is decent. Stefanie Powers, a seventies television mainstay, is the lovely Rachel. She isn’t given much to do other than be distraught that is. Still, she does that very well and plays her part in moving the story along. John Hillerman of Magnum P.I. fame has a blink and you’ll miss it appearance as the medical examiner. There are also a lot of other familiar faces who mostly just worked in television but were working actors that much like Powers do their jobs and move things along. As a giant nerd for the movie Stanley, it was awesome to see Chris Robinson as the blind psychic Carey. This is another spoiler so be warned. The late great Pat Hingle (Maximum Overdrive) starts off as the put upon husband of Lillian but ends up being the villain which was a cool twist. 

This isn’t a perfect movie. Like I’ve already mentioned it does have some pacing issues. The obsession with psychic phenomenon as well as the big finale with a psychic showdown was a bit cheesy. It did remind me of that episode of South Park but with out all the goofy pew pew pew nana nana nana sounds. If you haven’t seen it, then check this out. That aside I think that Sweet, Sweet Rachel is worth a look. The movie is only an hour and eleven minutes long and is available on YouTube. 

© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1972)

This bit of made for television fun is yet another adaptation of the classic Conan Doyle novel. This time around it was made as an ABC movie of the week and is heavy with familiar faces from sixties and seventies television. But before I go any further I suppose I should go over the plot, in case you haven’t ever read the novel or seen one of the other versions.

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson miss a visitor to their accommodations on Baker Street, but a clue in the form of a cane was left behind. Holmes being Holmes figures out the likely owner and the pair go off to find Dr. Mortimer. He tells them that an old friend has died on the moors near his home due to an old family curse. Seems an ancestor was a bit of an ass and since then a supernatural hound has been hunting and murdering the male heir. With his father’s death Henry Baskerville is now coming home from Canada to take up residence at Baskerville Hall and Mortimer thinks he is in danger.

Of course the idea of an actual supernatural threat is ludicrous, but Holmes does volunteer that both he and Watson act as bodyguards. They travel to the estate and poke around a bit. Sherlock takes his leave to finish another case but in reality uses that to put the real villain at ease so he can poke around unexpectedly. Eventually the guilty party is located, the hound is shown to be a hoax of sorts, and all turns out well for the good guys.

I’m a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes having read everything that Doyle wrote. I’ve never been a huge fan of the book but some of the adaptations have been decent. Sadly, this isn’t one of them. I mean it isn’t terrible but cramming the story into the hour and fourteen minute run time forces them to make some shortcuts. Instead of cutting out some of the less needed things, like the typist and her marriage woes, they cut down the convicts in the swamps. This means a vital clue is deemphasized. One of the things that I love about mystery stories is being able to try and figure it out along the way with the detective. Despite my familiarity with this one or maybe because of it this omission bugged me.

The pacing and the dialogue are okay. I was also happy with the performances from the cast, with one glaring exception that I’ll mention later. Bernard Fox (Hogan’s Heroes, The Mummy) makes an excellent Dr. Watson. We also see Anthony Zerbe (The Omega Man, Star Trek: Insurrection), Alan Caillou (The Ice Pirates, The Devil’s Brigade), and everyone’s favorite William Shatner in supporting roles. These television movies are how a lot of actors kept themselves employed and I miss seeing this much talent and effort put into what are essentially low budget productions.

Shatner is looking dapper!
My only complaint is that the most important character, Sherlock Holmes, is poorly portrayed by Stewart Granger. He should be the most interesting person in every seen but is overshadowed by the actors in the supporting cast, especially Bernard Fox. When your Dr. Watson is more fun to watch than your Sherlock Holmes you have made a horrible mistake!

This being a period piece set in Victorian England the low budget of a made for television movie is painfully obvious. You get a very cheap looking model standing in for an old train. This might have been passable in the thirties, but it is so cheap in appearance that it was bothersome. Also the sets are limited to a couple of streets and a castle that is obviously on a soundstage. When the alien planets from Star Trek the original series look more realistic you know there are issues.

In the end I’ve seen this story told much better elsewhere and because of that I can’t recommend this one. If you do want to check out a much better version may I suggest the adaptation from the late fifties starring Peter Cushing as Holmes. Even better yet is the made for television version from the Sherlock Holmes series starring Jeremy Brett. Either of those are worth a watch.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Monday, July 10, 2023

The Dead Don’t Die (1975)

This made for television movie completely surprised me and was a real find. The story is set in the thirties where we see a man named Don Drake visiting his brother in prison. It is the night before he is to be executed and Don has just made it back in town. His brother convinces him of his innocence and while they can’t stop what is about to happen asks him to prove it. This leads Don to Chicago where his brother lived and where he meets the various characters in his life.

Up until this point The Dead Don’t Die plays very much like a film noir. It is a murder mystery where the cops have already punished the man they think is responsible for the killing. Here is where things get interesting thought. When Don starts to dig he is approached by a mysterious woman named Vera who warns him to leave town. Almost immediately after that he chases a man that looks just like his dead brother into a nearby antique shop and accidentally kills the proprietor in a scuffle. He wakes up in Vera’s apartment and starts to piece together the mystery. Turns out it was his brother, who is now a zombie, and that there is a zombie master plying his craft in the city! Yeah, it went from mystery to horror just like that. All of this leads to a big finale where Don faces the man who framed his brother and has been trying to kill him.

I can’t say much more than I have without spoiling things. I loved this movie, so I really don’t want to do that. The story is quick paced clocking in with a seventy four minute runtime that was typical of made for television projects like this. There isn’t a wasted scene as we start with the brothers in the jail cell and quickly move to Chicago and the zombie plot line. Characters pop in and out of the story but none seem throwaway and all move things along. This is a well written script, which considering it was from the legendary Robert Bloch isn’t that surprising. When you have Psycho and The House that Dripped Blood I guess you know what you are doing.

Creepy zombie
The way that they present the undead is very simple with some old school makeup (dark circles under the eyes) and acting (shuffling with moaning dialogue) but it is effective. This isn’t a gorefest, but instead an old school voodoo inspired take on zombies. Overall I got a very Val Lewton vibe from not only how they were brought to the screen but also with the reliance on camerawork and lighting to set a spooky mood. I’m a huge fan of old school horror like Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie so this movie checked a lot of boxes for me. Damn I really need to cover those for the site.

Finally the cast is excellent. Our main character is the always reliable George Hamilton who we just saw in The Strange Possession of Mrs. Oliver. Here he is solid as the brother trying to unravel the mystery of his brother’s framing for murder. The filmmakers double down with an excellent supporting cast as well. Ray Milland (The Uninvited) is helpful dance hall owner and ally Jim Moss. The always welcome to see Ralph Meeker (The Food of the Gods, Without Warning) is the local policeman. Hollywood legend Joan Blondell and genre favorite Yvette Vickers (Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, Attack of the Giant Leeches) have supporting roles. We even get a pre-Kurt Barlow Reggie Nadler. There is a lot of talent in front of as well as behind the camera.

I could keep gushing but is it necessary? This is why I love these made for television flicks. They allowed creative folks to cast old school actors and because they had to work within limited budgets and under the watchful eye of television censors, they had to lean into quality writing and acting. I highly recommend The Dead Don’t Die.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Sunday, July 9, 2023

Pray for the Wildcats (1974)

One of the best things about made for television movies is that if you had a couple of familiar faces the network would pretty much let you make whatever movie you wanted to if you stayed within the budget. Pray for the Wildcats is a prime example of this, but more on that later. 

There is an AD agency trying to sell a powerful and rich business owner on their latest campaign to sell his heavy equipment (think tractors and bulldozers) by shooting it in Baja Mexico. This is because that is the most inhospitable terrain in the world, at least according to the movie. He manipulates the top three guys at the agency into going on a dirt bike ride thru the desert with him because he can approve the campaign unless he sees where they want to shoot it. Because he is so powerful and rich they have to agree and he knows it. 

So off they go but not before we find out that Warren, one of the AD guys, is in the process of being forced out of the agency and is trying to land this one last account. Or that is what he wants everyone to think as it becomes obvious that he is setting up his own suicide to look like an accident so his family can cash in his fat new insurance policy. Warren was also having an affair with Paul’s wife. The evil businessman, Farragut, gets into trouble almost immediately by getting fresh with a hippy girl and then causing both her and her boyfriend to die by stranding them in the middle of nowhere when he is rebuffed. Warren insists on telling the police, but the other guys are worried more about the account. Shenanigans ensue as the previously suicidal Warren is now ironically fighting for his life just to see justice done. 

Now that you have heard the plot let me tell you who the cast is. The two cowardly AD men are played by seventies mainstay Marjoe Gortner (H.G. Wells Food of the Gods) and television dad Robert Reed (The Brady Bunch). Our hero is everyone’s favorite William Shatner! Here he oddly enough is playing the part subdued and without his signature over the top line delivery. We also get Angie Dickinson and Lorraine Gary of Jaws fame as a couple of the AD men’s wives. But the craziest bit of casting must be for Farragut our murderous rich guy who likes to manhandle the ladies. Somewhere someone read this script and said to themselves “We should get Andy Griffith to play this.” What the actual Hell!

What a cast!
The reason that I started by talking about the cast rather then the story is because much of my issue with the plot has to do with the cast. Shatner is actually quite good in his role as the tortured Warren. He just wants his family to be taken care of and has to deal with his guilt over the affair. Despite his flaws when he sees the girl and boy die because of Farragut all his plans go out the window to see that they get justice. That is a decent character arc and is probably the most interesting part of the movie. 

Where things go off the rails for me is Griffith trying to play the heavy. Maybe with better material or direction he might have pulled it off. But here his natural charisma and overall kindly persona makes for a dichotomy between the characters actions and the performance bringing it to the screen that I just can’t get past. He is horribly miscast in the role and without a good antagonist Pray for the Wildcats doesn’t work. Toss in some horrible pacing where we watch them dirt bike across the desert for long stretches and the unnecessary drama with the wives back home for a tedious hour and forty minute runtime. 

I wanted to like this movie both because of the cast and my overall love of made for television movies. But this is a flawed movie that basically misfires and isn’t worth the time to watch. I can’t recommend it but will continue to dig for that next classic made for the small screen. Until then maybe go watch A Cold Night’s Death or The Possessed.

© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Featured Post - July is made for Television!

Since the launching of the site I've done a slasher marathon every June or July. I suppose it was inspired by the whole summer camp thing or maybe I just watch a lot of slashers this time of the year. Regardless I've done that for the last six summers. Sadly I'm running out of flicks to cover. I know that I've not covered them all but most of what I wish to sit thru have been done. I have a few Friday's and the Hatchet series to get to yet (and I will do so) but have decided to skip the slasher flicks this summer. 

What shall I do then? Well I have been on a bit of a kick with the made for television stuff lately so I figured I'd drop some reviews of these lesser known and in many cases fun little bits of genre goodness from the old boob tube. I hope you all dig it. 

If you are interested in my first one of these marathons you can find that list and links to those reviews here

Movie 1 - The Strange Possession of Mrs. Oliver. Karen Black and George Hamilton starring in a mystery that might also involve some ghostly possession and a bit of murder. Sign me up. Full review is here

Movie 2 - Pray for the Wildcats. What a cast in this one! William Shatner, Robert Reed (The Brady Bunch), and Marjorie Gortner all star! The villain is played by... Andy Griffith. Check out the review here

Movie 3 - The Dead Don't Die - This is a fun mashup of film noir and classic zombie movie. Ray Miland, and George Hamilton star in this creepy bit of made for television fun. The full review is here

Movie 4 - The Hound of the Baskervilles - I'm surprised that they didn't mine more Sherlock Holmes stories for the movie of the week format. Then again after watching this I can maybe see why not. The highlight of this is William Shatner in a supporting role. Check out the review here

Movie 5 - Sweet, Sweet Rachel - This was a fun movie. A bit uneven but it has a great cast with Stephanie Powers in the lead as Rachel. I also thought it was fun to see my favorite drive-in snake handler Chris Robinson from Stanley. Full review here

Movie 6 - A Taste of Evil - This is a fun thriller with some gothic vibes to it. A woman is tortured by the events of her childhood which are magnified when she returns home from years of treatment at hospitals in Europe. Her local doctor is played by the great Roddy McDowall! I dig this movie a lot. The review is posted here

Movie 7 - Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park - Okay it was bound to happen. How could I not talk about this oddity when doing a Made for Television marathon? At least I waited until the second one before covering this odd bit of rock-n-roll cross marketing. Check out my review here

Movie 8 - You'll Never See Me Again - This is probably the worst of the movies that I have watched so for for this marathon. They do try and do something interesting but it ends up being a boring and tedious melodrama. If you must have more details you can check out my review here

Movie 9 - She Waits - This movie had an excellent cast with Patty Duke and David McCallum in the lead roles. We even get a plot where a beautiful young wife is seemingly possessed by the ghost of her husbands previous lady. But sadly this is about as much fun as watching paint dry. You can check out more here

Movie 10 - The Devil and Miss Sarah - This was an odd mashup between Western and Horror... sort of. You aren't ever really sure if there is supernatural shenanigans going on or if the bad guy is the devil or if he is just an evil guy. If you want more then check out the full review here

Movie 11 - The UFO Incident - I've run into some real stinkers in this marathon. I had hope for this one that stars James Earl Jones and Estelle Parsons. Based on a "true story" of an "actual alien abduction" it basically is just boring and tedious. My full review is here

Movie 12 - The Immortal - I accidentally ended this marathon with a pretty decent flick. Christopher George stars as a man who while isn't technically immortal is likely going to live a very long and healthy life. Though the wealthy folks realize this and want to lock him up as their own personal fountain of youth. Full review is here

That is it for July. I hopefully will have at least one more slasher movie marathon in me so stay tuned for that next summer. I also will have many more made for television flicks to talk about soonish... maybe in a few months. There are a lot on my to watch pile and I plan on getting to them. Hope you had as much fun with these as I did. 

- John

The Strange Possession of Mrs. Oliver (1977)

This made for television movie starts off with a bang. We see a house on fire before hearing a woman screaming. Then it transitions to a couple attending a funeral. We find out that they are the Olivers, played by George Hamilton and Karen Black. Though that turns out to be a nightmare as Miriam (Black’s character) wakes up. We then go on to find out that they are trying for a baby and that he doesn’t want her to go back to work or school as that may get in the way. She is restless and starts to have waking dreams or flashbacks about a blonde woman.

This leads her to changing the way she dresses and getting a wig. Eventually she even rents a beach house and meets the locals. These folks seem to recognize her and say she must be another woman who disappeared five years earlier named Sandy. This is the woman that has been haunting her. Is it a ghost that is trying to possess her? Maybe she is losing her mind and taking on a second personality? Or maybe she is just bored and looking for some excitement? In the end the mystery is revealed, and everything is okay.

Obviously, I’m not going to spoil the movie here because I rather enjoyed The Strange Possession of Mrs. Oliver. It is a well written story with enough twists and turns to keep your attention for the entire seventy two minute runtime. I honestly didn’t see the ending coming but it works nicely. That shouldn’t be a surprise as it was written by the legendary Richard Matheson. This guy knew how to write for a budget as well as the censorship applied to these made for television flicks.

Sandy getting her groove on!
The cast is solid as well with George Hamilton in what is basically a supporting role as the husband. We also get a brief appearance from Bill Kerwin who most of us will recognize from his time in H.G. Lewis flicks. Though there is no doubt that this is the Karen Black show. She has the most screentime and is called on to carry the narrative. There are several scenes where it is just her reacting with confusion to the memories she is experiencing. We even get a cool scene where she is trying to convince herself that she is Miriam while talking to her husband. I think that people forget how great an actress she was and that is a damn shame.

I miss these made for T.V. productions. Yeah, a lot of them weren’t the best, but many of them were. Plus, it gave writers like Matheson and actresses like Black a place to get some work done. There is even a scene in a mall where we get to see a vintage seventies Footlocker in the background. The Strange Possession of Mrs. Oliver has something for everyone! I recommend checking this one out. As of the writing of this review it is on YouTube so there isn’t any excuse.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer